How To Create an Environment of Collaboration and Consensus-Building

By |Published On: April 4, 2023|
group at a meeting table in front of a bulletin board

Although bylaws and rules of order typically set numerical requirements for voting, associations have to do things a little differently. Because just one person isn’t in charge or the “owner,” association members must make many decisions through consensus. 

But how does a leader help their association reach consensus decision? 

This can be especially challenging because most association leaders are volunteers who have never followed a consensus-based decision-making process. They’re used to making decisions on their own or with a small leadership team. Building a consensus may seem strange to them.

That’s why it’s so important to create a supportive environment of collaboration and consensus-building in your association. You’ll reach your goals — and retain members. In fact, organizations that communicate and collaborate effectively are 4.5 times more likely to retain their best staff and volunteers.

In this article, we’ll go over the definition and benefits of consensus-building. We’ll also outline how to build a collaborative environment and a strong consensus-building process for your association.

[Related: Creating an Effective Nominating Process for Your Association]

What Is Consensus-Building?

So, exactly what is consensus-building

Consensus is a collaborative process by which people make decisions based on a group’s overwhelming agreement. Ultimately, a consensus decision is one that everyone supports (or can at least live with).

A consensus-building environment encourages people who work and learn together to reach agreements and maximize gains for all involved. When members work together to reach consensus, they work in an environment of collaboration. 

And when a strong, collaborative environment supports your association, it can reach its goals and see success sooner.

Benefits of Consensus-Building and Collaboration for Your Association

Three people during a meeting taking notes and talking

When making decisions in an association, consensus-building is a much better option than majority rule.

How so? Well, majority rule doesn’t require a collaborative or collective agreement, and it can often leave people feeling silenced or left out. Majorities can easily become repressive and create an atmosphere of “winners” and “losers” rather than a collective decision-making group.

However, consensus-building ideally allows for a unanimous agreement — or at least an overwhelming agreement that meets every stakeholder’s needs. It can bring a group closer together and strengthen an association’s mission. 

When members make efforts in good faith to meet all participants’ interests, you’ll see numerous benefits: 

  • Clear and precise work delegation
  • An easier way to work across locations
  • A faster way to work across teams and departments
  • Increased productivity
  • Better tracking and reporting
  • More organized workplace documents

Overall, a quality consensus-building process establishes clear boundaries and objectives while inviting all affected stakeholders to participate.


[Related: Board Recruitment Plan: How To Build an Effective Board of Directors]

Common Steps To Create a Consensus-Building Process

We’ve put together seven key considerations that will help you as an association leader build a successful consensus-based decision-making process.

1. Clearly Define the Consensus Process

First, clearly define the consensus decision-making process for your board or committee. 

Effective leaders understand that the best decisions for associations don’t rely on a vote — they know group consensus is the basis of any decision.  When your board knows exactly what the consensus process entails, get their commitment to reach decisions through it.

2. Present the Challenge, Issue or Goal

Next, lay out the challenge or issue that the group needs to address and explain how it affects your association’s common goal. 

Understanding how the decision relates to the goal is key — when a group fully understands how their decision influences the association, they’re more likely to collaborate. In turn, you’re more likely to build a consensus. 

3. Establish Trust and Openness

For a group to reach true consensus, participants must feel comfortable enough to be completely open and honest. Naturally, openness and honesty require a foundation of mutual trust. 

With this in mind, start each meeting by reminding your group about these values (trust, openness, etc.). Make sure to emphasize the importance of trust in reaching sound decisions through consensus.

[Related: Seven Keys to Running a Successful Meeting]

4. Be Fair and Inclusive

During any discussion, don’t let one opinion dominate the conversation. As a consensus-builder, you must ensure the group holds an evenhanded discussion. Additionally, consider all members’ input on all topics.

5. Consider All Sides

Get everyone to participate. The group can’t reach true consensus if its members haven’t considered all sides of an issue. 

If someone doesn’t participate in a discussion, tactfully ask them for their input. They may be hesitant or even shy, but their voice is important.

6. Guide the Discussion

As the leader, your job is to facilitate — not to influence — the decision-making process. To that end, it’s wise to keep your opinion to yourself during the discussion. 

If you feel the group hasn’t brought up an issue for consideration near the end of a discussion, don’t do so yourself as a personal opinion. Instead, say something like, “I’ve heard several different points of view on this subject. One additional point of view that I haven’t heard yet is…” 

Then, let the group address it. This tactic steers the conversation rather than spearheads it.

7. Find Common Ground

Finally, find common ground and build on it. 

At the end of a discussion, when the group has thought out and shared all points of view, find some common ground among the opinions they’ve voiced. Then, use that single sentiment as a building block to reach the final decision.

[Related: How Do You Handle Negativity in Your Association’s Meetings?]

Questions To Ask When Creating a Consensus-Building Environment

A group of people after a meeting holding each other's hands in the air

To design the best process and environment for collaboration and consensus-building, consider these questions:

  • Who does the process need to include? 
  • How will you ensure the group hears a wide, diverse variety of voices?
  • Are all key interested parties willing and able to participate?
  • Before the process can begin, does the group need to establish trust or overcome roadblocks? 
  • What are the major decisions that the group must make for final consensus?
  • What information must all parties understand ahead of time?
  • Is it important to involve the public or outside participants in the collaboration and consensus process?

Reach Your Goals With CM Services Today

Helping your association understand and reach consensus decision can be very challenging. However, healthy and long-lasting associations follow the consensus process for decision-making. 

Follow these steps and create an environment of collaboration and consensus-building. When you do, you’ll help assure your association’s success and longevity. 

If you’re looking for support, partner with CM Services. We’re a skilled association management company, and we’ve helped associations like yours since 1977. 

CM Services helps associations overcome challenges and meet goals with professional services including these:

  • Strategic and operational planning
  • Board management
  • Committee management

Contact us today for further information and support. We’ll help you create a successful, collaborative environment in your association! 

Featured image via Pexels

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